Rob Jones - "I want to make my mark in this team"
One of the more difficult tasks anyone could set a loyal county cricket supporter in April is that of predicting their team’s line-up for the final four-day match of the season, Even the most studious of cricket badgers would be stumped by it.
For example, who honestly reckoned this would be Lancashire’s line-up at Edgbaston in September: Jones, Hameed, Procter, Brown, Croft, Livingstone, Clark, Lilley, Bailey, Jarvis, Kerrigan?
A few names were very familiar six months ago, of course, but even the shrewd observers who reckoned Rob Jones might get a gig or two would surely not have thought he would be opening the batting. And that includes Jones, himself, who is by his own admission, a badger of the first water.
Jones’s emergence was one of the brightest aspects of the latter part of Lancashire’s season. He looked as if he belonged in the First Division and the moment when he scored his maiden hundred against Middlesex was chosen as the champagne moment of 2016 at the Player of the Year dinner.
Lancashire’s Head Coach and Cricket Director Ashley Giles, was full of praise for the way Jones had taken to the first-class game and for his willingness to take on the opener’s role when Tom Smith was hit by another injury.
Jones, himself, however, was just pleased to get an opportunity to play for his beloved Lancashire and more than happy to take on the opener’s role. Maybe he should have listened to the pundits at Oakmere CC, the Cheshire club where he played before moving to Premier League side, Toft.
“All the old lads at Oakmere were saying I’d get a chance but I didn’t think I would because all the twos games had finished and it just came at the most unexpected time,” he said. “Tom Smith got injured and they needed another batter.
“I don’t see the point of shying away from an opportunity like that of opening. Why would you want to do so? Sometimes it can be the toughest place to bat, sometimes it can be the best. When the wickets are quite flat, it’s not the worst.
“Ash asked me: ‘Do you want to open?’ and my response was ‘Absolutely, yeah, I’d love to.’ I don’t have to wait to bat or sit think about it.”
Before long Jones will be honing his skills playing first-grade cricket for South Perth while a few thousand miles away, his Lancashire opening partner, Haseeb Hameed, will be hoping to make his Test debut against Bangladesh.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the 20-year-old with four first-class matches on his CV is happy to pay tribute to the batsman a year younger whose precocious talent has enabled him to jump straight into the full England squad.
“Has is just quiet and I respect this,” said Jones. “We just talk about what the ball’s doing and tell each other to keep going. He’s so focused and in his own zone that he doesn’t speak to anyone. I’m a bit more chatty but that’s the way he is.”
Some of Jones’s opponents, of course, have been a trifle more forthcoming about what they would like to do to him. Ripping his head off come quite high on the list, apparently. Jones takes it all in his stride.
“The chat does fire you up because it’s not personal, it’s a sign they want my wicket and I’m just not going to let them get my wicket. It fires you up even more to do well,” he said.
“I didn’t find concentrating difficult during the hundred because I was thinking that over my dead body they were not getting me out.
“I remember Alastair Cook saying that he wanted that sort of attitude from the England players during the Emirates Old Trafford Test, when I was one of the 12th men, and that stuck with me. Nothing else matters to me more than doing the job for the team.”
And next summer Jones is looking forward to more of the same. He will be forever grateful to the coaching he has received from Mark Chilton and now he is ready to take the next steps in his career.
“I hope in the next couple of years I can flourish and make my mark in this team. I want to work as hard as I can this winter and learn from what I’ve done in these four games. You need to learn quickly which I feel I do. I try to take everything on board because I’m a sponge and a badger and I just love it.
“Chill said he was really proud of me when I got my hundred but that this was just the start and now I have to focus on next season. I’d love to be a first-class cricketer and I’d love to play for England. I want to be in Has or Ducky’s shoes in time but playing for the Red Rose is just unbelievable.”